The second half of the racing season kicks off Sunday with Big Brown returning in the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.
The last time we saw the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was his Roberto Duran-like “no mas” finish in the Belmont Stakes.
The curiosity of Big Brown will be about whether he returns to top form. If he does, Big Brown will spread eagle the Haskell field as a 1-2 favorite is supposed to do.
Only one other horse from a Triple Crown race — Cool Coal Man — is in the Haskell. Cool Coal Man finished 15th in the Kentucky Derby at 44-1 odds. Some potential runners opted for the easier, and nearly as rich, $750,000 West Virginia Derby on Saturday.
Big Brown has had four good workouts since the Belmont. That tells me his trainer, Rick Dutrow, has been able to train him in a normal fashion, something he couldn’t do leading to the Belmont debacle.
Like it or not, Big Brown is a more recognizable and marketable horse than Curlin, the 2007 Horse of the Year. That’s what winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown will do for you. So it’s a safe bet a lot of racetrack managers are rooting for Big Brown to run big in the Haskell.
• PLAZA — The first Lucky’s Race and Sports book in Las Vegas will open today at the Plaza downtown. Where Lucky’s hopes to stand out from the betting crowd is to be aggressive with its lines and prop bets.
Lucky’s will join Leroy’s and Cal-Neva as independent race and sports book operators in Nevada.
Other Lucky’s books are in the Grand Sierra in Reno and the High Desert and Red Lion in Elko.
The highly respected Jimmy Vaccaro will be out front as director of sports operations and public relations.
Lucky’s parent company is Brandywine Bookmaking.
• WYNN — The $150,000 guaranteed Wynn Las Vegas Race Handicapping Challenge will be Aug. 8 and 9.
The entry fee is rich, $2,000, but there are two daily pools and an overall pool to recoup your investment.
For more information, call the Wynn race book at 770-3075.
• PALACE STATION — There will be a subqualifier at Palace Station on Thursday for the National Handicapping Championship.
The entry fee is $40.
• WITHHOLDING TAX — A bill to eliminate the automatic 25 percent federal withholding tax on parimutuel winnings of $5,000 or more for bets that carry odds of 300-1 or higher has been introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives.
Called the “Parimutuel Conformity and Equality Act of 2008” (H.R. 6631), the bill was sponsored by Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.).
Horseplayers should contact their local Congressman to support this measure.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.